I hope you are staying healthy, and if able, staying at home. I wanted to provide an update on a few items, expand on a couple others, and share some of the pieces I have been reading.
Emergency Rulemaking Regarding COVID-19
Today, Mayor Bowser clarified emergency rulemaking as it applies to restaurants, taverns, nightclubs, and multi-purpose facilities.
To comply with DC Health’s prohibition of mass gatherings and achieve the public health goals of social distancing, restaurants and taverns shall:
- Ensure that no more two hundred and fifty (250) people are present in the space at the same time
- Suspend the use of bar seating
- Suspend service to standing patrons
- Limit individual table seating to six (6) persons or less
- Ensure that tables (including booths) that are occupied by patrons are separated by at least six (6) feet of distance
(And to whomever was golfing in Stead Park this morning – just because there are closures – please do not do that!)
More information at coronavirus.dc.gov.
What I’ve Been Reading
I know there has been no shortage of COVID-19 stories out there. Here are four I recommend:
Washington Post: Why outbreaks like coronavirus spread exponentially, and how to “flatten the curve” – a
set of visualizations that use variables that change every time the page loads, describing how COVID-19 may spread with various societal changes.
DCist: Local Campaigning Is All About Shaking Hands And Knocking On Doors. But Now, That’s Changing – a focus on Ward 2 campaigns and the decisions that were made on Thursday and Friday.
The Atlantic: The Dos and Don’ts of ‘Social Distancing’ – one of the best pieces I’ve read on trying to gauge what is and is not appropriate, hearing from various types of experts, in the current crisis.
Washington City Paper: What’s Been Canceled in D.C.: An Updated List – the title speaks for itself, but the bottom line is if you don’t need to go, don’t.
ANC Meeting Cancellation and Future Meetings
I worked with other ANC commissioners to cancel Wednesday’s ANC 2B meeting shortly after the Mayor’s state of emergency and public health emergency announcement around 4 p.m. that day. This was actually a complicated situation for us at the time, as Wednesday’s recommendations were to postpone “non-essential mass gatherings, including conferences and conventions,” but the Mayor had not halted the processes and agencies that Advisory Neighborhood Commissions have great weight on. In other words, processes regarding alcohol licenses, public space permits, etc. were slated to continue as planned and by not having an ANC meeting, we could be effectively cutting out the neighborhood’s input. The Zoning Commission and Board of Zoning Adjustment, for example, didn’t decide to move their cases until Friday. I am going to remember Wednesday as the day things in D.C. quickly escalated from “serious” to “emergency” in a matter of hours and I believe we did the correct thing by cancelling our meeting. I’m aware of other ANCs in the District that still conduced meetings after Wednesday’s announcement, and respect their decision to hold theirs.
Thankfully, we coincidentally had no zoning or historic preservation cases on our agenda, and the items before ABRA I anticipate we were likely going to take no action on (which is effectively an approval through omission… more on that later). Other items might be rescheduled to another meeting if the timing works out.
A suggestion I got from a few people was along the lines of having a meeting online but unfortunately it is not legal under the current law. In fact, even in normal circumstances, if a commissioner is sick or traveling, they cannot call in or be video conferenced into an in-person meeting and be considered present. But that may change…
District Council Chair Phil Mendelson will be introducing emergency legislation next week that may work to seek relief for small businesses and workers, protections for renters, spare neighbors from evictions or utility cutoffs, and more, including letting Advisory Neighborhood Commissions meet remotely. While I, and many of you, have experience working remotely, using teleconferencing platforms, and while public video streaming on platforms like Periscope, Twitch, YouTube, and Facebook are relatively easy for consumers, conducting a virtual ANC meeting will have a serious set of challenges. These challenges include making sure the public is able to have input fairly and equitably, providing access to those who may have technology access challenges, and being completely accessible to those who are Deaf and Hard of Hearing. These are issues I will be working with the Office of ANC and our ANC Chair in the coming weeks prior to our April meeting, in the situation where we may need to conduct it remotely under the emergency legislation.
Electronic Games of Skill and Sports Wagering
“A game of skill or a mini slot machine?” asks WAMU. The Games of Skill Consumer Protection Emergency Amendment Act of 2019 (PDF) was signed into law on February 27, 2020, paving the way for the Alcoholic Beverage Regulation Administration (ABRA) to allow “Electronic Games of Skill” in neighborhood restaurants and taverns. This is very similar to how Sports Wagering is regulated under the Sports Wagering Lottery Amendment Act of 2018 (PDF). Now that both Electronic Games of Skill and Sports Wagering are legal, businesses in the District can have it by changing their license.
My personal point of view is that I am generally against Electronic Games of Skill, Sports Wagering, as well as the lottery and most gambling in fact. I understand that my personal point of view is not aligned with many, and thank you to those who have reached out to me on both sides of this. I also understand and respect that this is now the law. If we were to consider trying to restrict these activities in our neighborhood, ABRA allows us to protest licenses for establishments based off three appropriateness standards:
- The effect of the establishment on real property values
- The effect of the establishment on peace, order, and quiet
- The effect of the establishment upon residential parking needs and vehicular and pedestrian safety
It is difficult to make a case that some of the bars and clubs in the neighborhood will be altered under one of those appropriateness standards if they add Electronic Games of Skill or Sports Wagering. In other words, this is an annoying thing to have before this ANC in general as for those who are opposed to it, it is basically to trying to telling a bar they can still do something that’s legal (sell alcohol) but not do something else that’s also legal (have games or wagering), but not having an appropriateness standard to protest it with. This is different than having an entertainment endorsement on a license, for example, where we could arguably say it could have an impact on peace, order and quiet.
I will be monitoring how this plays out in the coming months, and if the impacts are negative, I will be looking at how this can be regulated differently or disallowed at the Council of D.C. level as the tools available to the ANC in this case are egregiously limited in my opinion.
Corcoran and 17th Street NW
A number of neighbors (and the Washington City Paper) inquired with me about the encampment cleanup scheduled a few days ago. I have been in touch with DMHHS and a contact at the mayor’s office and will know more later in the week. Miriam’s Kitchen, one of the organizations partnered with the District of Columbia on efforts to end chronic homelessness, has set up a fundraiser to ramp up efforts in respond to COVID-19.
Keep in touch. Stay healthy everyone.